EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Mystery Writers #2, Jonathan Valin

Greetings Readers!   
Why do I write crime stories? Because I read little else!  
When e-books appeared, I became an early adopter if only for the storage. Digital space = many orders of magnitude of real world space.
My office is crammed with my beloved crime books. Sadly and inevitably, I have run out of wall space for yet another IKEA bookshelf. It’s time. Each book is a tangible totem, a record of my time well- spent or well-wasted.  No doubt that’s why it so hard to decide whether to: 
 GIVE AWAY, SELL or KEEP.

I’ve been a customer of Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore since it first opened in Toronto on Bayview Avenue  and I’ve followed it through four moves to its present location on Millwood Road.

I started out reading the classics (Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Marjorie Allingham) but quickly gravitated to darker crime fiction, which remains my strong favorite. So on J. D. Singh’s recommendation, I tried the Harry Stoner series by Jonathan Valin and quickly became a fan.

Like most enduring PI heroes, Harry Stoner hides his human side and lives to deliver justice for his disempowered clients – through violence, what else? His city is Cincinnati (Sin City?), a dark gritty place ruled by grifters and gangsters thriving in the worst sin: snuff films, pornography, pedophilia…you know the list.

In the 1980’s, PI novels had far more rigid conventions than today. The Stoner series checks everything off the list: Stoner is a (Viet Nam) war vet. He bears mental and physical scars (he looks like a broken Roman statue).  He’s big and strong and lethal with his fists. His PI office lies in a funky old building. He drives a wreck of a car – a (mercifully) non-flaming Pinto. He’s constantly short of cash. He lives on a diet of alcohol, steak and coffee – and survives more physical abuse than is humanly possible (beaten up, shot, etc.) He also gets a ton of sex.

On re-reading, The Lime Pit, the first book in the series, the limited roles of the women characters really got to me. They were straight out of a 1950s Mickey Spillane adventure. Good girls or bad, they only existed to have sex with Stoner.  Their defining characteristics: compliant and horny.

So what was Valin’s appeal for me? His writing! It’s breathtakingly vivid, visceral and cinematic – just the way I like it. Here’s an  example:

“Morris Rich was a sly, sentimental man of about fifty…but he was first and foremost a thief. He was a short man with a smooth, hairless head, the exact size of a schoolyard kickball and the bright, famished eyes and tiny upturned mouth of a rat.”

From 1980 to 1995, Valin wrote 11 novels in the Harry Stoner series of which I own the first eight. A TV movie was made of Final Notice, the second book in the series, starring actor Gil Gerard with Cincinnati played by Toronto (really??). The film didn’t catch on, which often as not happens with crime series: witness the failure to translate Louise Penny’s terrific Gamache novels to the screen.

Maybe that’s why after 11 books and 14 years of hard work, Valin switched to editing Fi, a music review magazine and left crime writing behind.

Valin won the prestigious Shamus Award in 1989 for his 8th Stoner novel, Extenuating Circumstances. He was nominated again in 1991 for Second Chance. Previously in 1986, Life’s Work was a runner-up for the Anthony award.

Distinguished author and screenwriter, Stuart Kaminsky wrote this about Valin’s writing and I can’t help but agree: “All [his novel] are gems. They never caught on, never got an audience, while far lesser talents became best sellers… I would read them all again and recommend them to all lovers of hard-boiled mysteries.” 

My friend, Sam Wiebe, who was recently listed for the both Shamus and Hammett awards, shares the same hope – as do I – that in the end quality is what matters – and endures.

BOTTOM LINE: What are my paperback copies worth?

The low end is disappointing for books of this quality but that’s the marketplace.   The lofty numbers are seller-specific. In other words, like Terry (Mr. Brainwash) in the documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, ask $500 for a ratty 1970s T-shirt and some mark might bite!

DECISION: Sell as a set for $25US

TITLE ABE BOOKS – $US E BAY -$US
The Lime Pit $4 to $39.99   
Final Notice $1.50 to $39.99  
Dead Letter $3.34 to $44.59 $20.95
Day of Wrath $2.95 to $39.99  
Natural Causes $2.99 to $39.99 $3.32
Life’s Work $2.99 to $13.14

$1.91

Fire Lake $1.11 to $43.39 $7.93
Extenuating Circumstances $1.00 to $42.20 $1.31

 

 

 

I’M IN THE MOVIES: FAB DOCUMENTARY OF THE MESDAMES OF MAYHEM

Back LtoR: Rosemary McCracken, Jane Burfield, Lisa De Nikolits, Donna Carrick, Lynne Murphy, Melodie Campbell, Sylvia Warsh Foreground: Marilyn Kay, M. H. Callway

Greetings Readers and Happy New Decade!

In business school, I learned that my job-survivalist strategies in the bureaucracy had a name: NETWORKING. To push through the inertia of the Ministry, I had to call on my friends for help.   And trade favours for favours.

It took years to build my network, to gain friends from shared job successes, catastrophes or bosses from hell. But business profs urged a more active approach: Get out there, meet more people, throw your business card to the winds, attack and build your NET.

So I did – and discovered that gold, when it landed, always came from an unexpected direction.

In 2018, we Mesdames of Mayhem were winding up another great panel at the Beaches Library. A young woman approached the table. She turned out to be Cat Mills, an award-winning documentarian – and she thought we’d make an engaging film.

Me? In the movies? NO WAY! Unlike the Ellen Burstyn character in Requiem for a Dream the last thing in the universe I want is to be on TV. Radio is fine (and I had a fab time as Alison Dore’s guest on Sirius) but the shock seeing of myself as others see me – GACK!!

Cat and my dear friend and author extraordinaire, Lisa De Nikolits, connected right away. They invited me for coffee and I thought, why not? Coffee and company, what’s a better way to spend an hour NOT writing!

The hour turned into three hours of lively and thought-provoking discussion. And after I viewed Cat’s wonderful documentary, Biker Bob’s Posthumous AdventureI knew I had to make the Mesdames film happen.

The first hurdle: money! Cat planned to approach the CBC. Oh, well, I thought. I have several friends and my own daughter, Claire Callway, is in the film biz: the chances of a film ever getting financed are really low. BUT CBC came through.

Over the next several months, Cat and crew filmed miles of footage, interviewing many Mmes individually, including myself. How would Cat distill all this material into a coherent 15-minute film?

We had a lot of fun, including a garden party at my house where the weather cooperated beautifully. The atmospheric picture above is from the footage shot at the wickedly macabre Darling Mansion decorated mostly like a Victorian bordello. Here are some pics: a visit is highly recommended.

Taxidermy

Friend Jane in the “boudoir”

Friend Lynne and a bear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my former life as a management consultant, I grew comfortable with chaos. When you walk into a work place experiencing problems, you’re overwhelmed by the trees of a prickly forest: the client’s urgency, too much or too little of the right data, human emotions, office politics. Fortunately, I liked to dive right into the metaphorical shark pool and swim around until patterns emerged. And soon I’d hear a phrase that crystallized those patterns into a solution.

Ironically, for our film, the person who uttered the key phrase was me.  Cat had asked me why I liked writing crime fiction. To me, I said, it’s spiritual comfort food. When I open a mystery novel, I know that no matter how horrific the crime, by the end of the story justice will be done. And we all know life isn’t really like that.

In Cat’s film, The Mesdames of Mayhem, she shows that early life traumas propelled us to create crime fiction. There we can serve up justice to those who so richly deserve it! Cat focused on four of my friends:  Jane Burfield, Melodie Campbell, Donna Carrick and Lisa De Nikolits.  I’m there, too, flitting in and out: I even get to show off our latest anthology, In the Key of 13.

Word was that Cat’s film would make you laugh – and make you cry. On October 25th, I opened up the YouTube link and watched The Mesdames of Mayhem alone in my studio. It was a brilliant, emotionally intense experience, the work of a gifted professional.

I laughed, I cried! And you will, too, dear readers. HERE IT IS:

 

 

 

 

 

NEWS, NEWS, NEWS! THE MESDAMES OF MAYHEM’S 4TH ANTHOLOGY

The Mesdames of Mayhem are delighted to announce their fourth anthology, In the Key of 13, a malicious medley of music, mischief and …murder!

This year’s book contains tales and a satirical poem by 19 Canadian crime writers, award-winning established authors and talented new-comers.  Each story has a backdrop of music: Beethoven, Mozart, war songs, folk tunes and even Elvis. And they range from comedy to thriller to noir.

My own story, “Brainworm”, relates how a worn-out caregiver is slowly and relentlessly driven mad by her conniving family – and a French chanson that lodges in her mind and refuses to depart. It’s a dark one again, readers: couldn’t help it.

Here’s an excerpt:

Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse.

Damn that tune! Even thirty years later, Fiona still hated that tune.

It was Chérie’s favorite ditty. She made all her students sing it in French class. Fiona, who had no ear for languages, had provoked both Chérie’s and her classmates’ laughter by mouthing: “Sur le pont d’Artagnan, lorry doh-sa, lorry doh-sa.”

Chérie had entered her and Dad’s lives a short year after Mother died. All Fiona’s friends raved about their new French teacher who’d left the lights of Paris to teach in boring old Hamilton. Imagine!

Chérie had thick black hair, smoothed into a chignon. Her egg-yellow cardigan, red shoes and clanking costume jewelry added le punch to her wardrobe as she put it to the class. Nothing though struck Fiona as more profoundly stupid than the name Chérie called herself: Madelle. A witty contraction of Madame and Mademoiselle, the French version of “Ms”, très chic, non?

Chérie liked to single Fiona out in class, asking her questions about tricky French spellings with a twist to her cherry red lips. She lingered beside Fiona’s desk, scanning her work before departing with a small tap-tap of her fingers on Fiona’s notebook. That Dad would consider dating her, let alone marry her, was beyond unthinkable.

But time erodes everything. Dad and Chérie’s 30 year marriage, with its ups and downs, foreign travels and family festivities had faded into memory. Their only son, Bertie was now 29 years old, a sought-after data base analyst. And Chérie was no longer glamorous, dwindling into a frail shadow of her younger self.

Fiona forced her eyes back onto the road. The weather had deteriorated. Clouds of blowing snow wrapped everything in a haze; oncoming headlights loomed toward her like the dull, yellow eyes of beasts. She slowed to a crawl, terrified she might need to swerve or brake.

The Royal Botanical Gardens were barely recognizable under the heavy shroud of snow. She inched past them.

It’s like the ice age has come again, she thought. Grinding human civilization, our history, our lives into nothing.

Available on Amazon.ca AND through Sleuth of Baker Street and selected bookstores.

 

CYBER CAFE: Welcome Jayne Barnard!

Jayne Barnard and I first became friends in cyber space. We met in Real Space at the 2016 Arthur Ellis Banquet where to my delight, she won the Unhanged Arthur for her first crime novel, Where the Flood Falls (Dundern). Her hero, Lacey McCrae, is a former RCMP officer fleeing domestic abuse. Lacey is rebuilding her life in the Calgary foothills but gets drawn into solving homicides.

The second book in the series, Where the Ice Falls, debuted on August 10th, giving me an early read of this terrific thriller. The story touches on serious social issues, like cyber fraud while chasing down the true killer through a frigid Alberta winter.

In addition to crime, Jayne writes historical and speculative fiction. She is the creator of the YA steam punk heroine, Maddie Hatter. The first book in the series, Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge, won the Alberta Book of the Year Award. Jayne unleashes her wild imagination in a cozy, vine-covered cottage where she lives with her husband and orange tabby cat.

All these great reads are available on Amazon. Where the Ice Falls is also available through Indigo/Chapters, Barnes & Noble, and at Jayne’s long-time home bookstore, Owls Nest Books in southwest Calgary.  So readers, EAT THESE BOOKS and welcome, Jayne, to Cyber Café!

 

Jayne, how did you become a writer? Did you know from childhood?

The first time I really threw myself into writing a story was in Grade 3. My teacher let me have a whole week to finish it to my satisfaction. I sold a couple of poems in early adulthood and averaged two sales of short pieces (fiction and non-) per decade until my oldest child hit university.

How do you carve out time write?

I didn’t sell my first novel until after my last child left home. It’s a common trajectory for female writers with families; carving out the time and, more importantly, the mental focus to write, is a challenge.

How did you turn to crime…fiction?

I actually started selling historical short crime stories. “The Medicine Line” and “Tommy Palmer’s Ghost” were finalists for the Great Canadian Story prize from the now-sadly-defunct Canadian Storyteller Magazine. “Each Canadian Son” won the Boney Pete at Bloody Words 2011 in Victoria, BC. I’d written a handful of speculative short stories along the way but none got published until I was already working on my first Steampunk novella, Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond (Tyche Books, 2015).

What was your inspiration for the Falls series and the main character, Lacey McCrae?

At heart the series is about women and the friendships that support us as we grow through the upheavals of early adulthood. Long ago, my best friend from high school joined the RCMP. Back then we were both into running, cycling, swimming, so the fitness requirement wasn’t a big problem for her. By the time she left the Force ten years later, we both had half-finished university degrees and failed marriages. In addition, she had PTSD and I had already been diagnosed with the illness that still rules my life (ME/CFS).

Lacey is loosely based on my friend’s experiences adjusting to civilian life, but her running and other active scenes are rooted in my kinetic memory from those active olden days with my friend. The character of Jan is in many senses my current life; she studied what I studied, and she has ME/CFS which limits what she can do. We both still crave exposure to the arts world we had to leave.

Where the Ice Falls is the second book in the series. How does it continue on from When the Flood Falls?

Where the Ice Falls takes place from early December to early January, six months after the events of Where the Flood Falls. Lacey and Jan were the main players in Flood; Lacey and her roommate Dee are central to Ice.

Dee’s mother is terminally ill, and determined to have a last Christmas with her only child before seeking a medically assisted death. Dee relies on Lacey’s support to come to terms with her mother’s wishes. But Lacey’s already crispy at the edges after months of looking after Dee during her long recovery from last summer’s injuries.

A new character, Zoe, is near breaking point from work, Christmas prep, and her stepsons’ impending visit. When Zoe’s teenage daughter finds a dead intern outside their borrowed ski chalet, all the women are yanked into a chilling holiday season filled with family dysfunctions and psychological stressors that lead inexorably toward danger and death in the cruel wilderness west of Calgary.

Tell us about your Maddie Hatter novella series (Tyche Books).

The Maddie Hatter Adventures are frothy romps that chase Maddie, renegade daughter of Britain’s most respected Steamlord, as she attempts to make her living by investigative reporting. Except no editor will give a young lady an investigative assignment; she’s trapped on the Society pages, writing about women’s fashion.

She has to break out of what we’d now call a ‘pink ghetto’ on her own. Whether hunting for batty Baron Bodmin and his mysterious bloodshot diamond across three seas and two continents, or parasol duelling in Gilded Age New York City with a devious Russian countess, or hunting industrial spies across the calles and alleys of Venice during Carnivale, Maddie needs all her wits – and the help of her clockwork bird, Tweetle-D,  to catch the crooks and pen the exposés, or she’ll be relegated to hats-and-hemlines stories forever.

Maddie Hatter is Steampunk-inspired. (I love steam punk BTW) Do tell us more about Steampunk. 

Steampunk got its start in the late-Victorian adventure tales of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, the creator of Sherlock Holmes wrote a few Professor Challenger novels too, questing for lost worlds.

The modern twist on this genre is that the gasoline engine was never invented. Steam power kept evolving instead, with new gadgets and advanced transportation and communication technology. Nowadays, Steampunk is not limited to British literary tradition nor to Victorian England. In Australia, Japan, India, Russia, and all across the Western world, Steampunk sub-cultures are flourishing, with festivals bringing together hundreds of costumed revelers ready to show off their gadgets while they participate in parades, teapot races, and, increasingly, parasol duelling.

To be totally honest, my husband and I – both involved in the Alberta Steampunk community for many years – invented parasol duelling for Maddie Hatter’s world and are thrilled that it has been adopted by Steampunks around the globe. The World Championships are held in Alberta each September, but there are duelling groups in England, France, Australia, New Zealand, and several US states.

Both of us contributed stories to the noir anthology, The Dame was Trouble. Your story is cross-genre: a futuristic PI story set in space. Do you see an increasing trend in cross-genre crime fiction?

I think there’s a bright future in SFF/ crime crossovers. Modern readers live in a technologically complex world and expect their fiction to mirror that, but at heart we all want characters we can identify with, whether they’re human, humanoid, android, or entirely alien. Crime writers have been studying the human psyche across the full spectrum of good and evil for a long time; the more we’re able to expand our work to settings beyond the limits of contemporary Earth, the more new readers we’ll find.

What challenges face the cross-genre crime writer?

To write good crossover fiction, you must know the conventions of both genres well before deciding which ones you’ll break, bend, or stand on their heads. While crime fiction is based on human nature and the solution of a puzzle, SFF readers want exotic settings and alternative social structures that challenge them to imagine life outside the confines of the world they know.

It’s not enough to set a crime story on a space station or alien moon if you don’t think about what new opportunities and limitations the setting imposes on the criminals and the detectives. In “Painted Jade”, my story from The Dame Was Trouble, the body is found floating outside the station, all forensic evidence perfectly preserved by the vacuum of space. However, our intrepid detective must go out there to bring it in, and if you’ve ever felt that leap in your stomach on a carnival ride, imagine how your stomach will feel as it tries to keep your breakfast from rising in the absence of gravity.

Ideally you should be reading in the genres you’re writing in, so you can avoid the unrewarding task of crafting, for example, a compelling mystery in a setting that’s been thoroughly explored by a dozen masters of SFF already. You don’t want half your potential readers to dismiss your masterwork as being out-dated, or the other half to toss the book aside because they guessed the murder plot in the first few pages and aren’t interested enough in your careful world-building to keep reading.

What’s next for you, Jayne?

First off, I’ll be editing the third book in The Falls Mysteries. Why the Rock Falls picks up with Lacey and Jan the following summer, when Jan’s old university roommate comes to Bragg Creek with her movie-director husband and promptly attracts old lovers and new dangers in the sun-baked foothills. It will be released in the summer of 2020 by Dundurn Press.

Next, I’ll work on a contemporary Young Adult thriller in which a teenage foster child gets tangled up with a land-developer, a politician, and a deceptively mild-eyed collie with a penchant for escape. I’m quite excited about this blending of my crime-writing background with my YA adventure style. You could say it’s another kind of crossover.

Great having you on Cyber Cafe, Jayne. Really looking forward to reading your new books.

Thanks for inviting me to visit your blog. Always a pleasure to chat with you.

 

 

 

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Mystery Writers #1 – John Dunning

My friend and fellow crime writer, Rosemary McCracken’s recent read is Death Cleaning, a new take on decluttering.

Argh!  The bleak title stems from my mother’s  birth country of Sweden, creator of IKEA, the cashless society and self-serve everything.  With cold-hearted pragmatism the book tells you to throw out your shit before your kids do.

Sigh.  I’m a keeper, especially of books. Each one of them retains an emotional memory.  But my office is filling up and I’m unlikely to reread most of them.  So I’m diving in and sharing my relics with you, readers.

And I’ll decide whether to GIVE AWAY, SELL or KEEP.

 What better place to start than with Booked to Die by John Dunning. Dunning had written a few mysteries already but in Booked to Die he wrote about his passion: books themselves. It was hit!

 His hero, Cliff Janeway, is a former homicide detective obsessed with tracking down the killer of a rare book hunter. Leaving the police force, he sets up his own bookstore to buy and sell valuable first editions and after much murder and mayhem, catches the killer.

Booked to Die is full of neat details about the rare book trade. I learned about book scouts, typically impecunious types who scour used books stores, church fairs and garage sales for valuable editions, buying them cheap then hawking them to antiquarian book dealers. I also learned about bookstore owners helping each other out, sharing leads and so on.

Of course, what really got my friends and me juiced was the hope that somewhere in our well-thumbed collections lurked a priceless edition. Dunning hooked me on the first page with his Rare Book Quiz : What book found in a used bookstore bin for $15 sold at auction for $250,000? And that’s at 1992 prices!

Of course, I’m still looking for that priceless edition. How does one even find out what one’s precious hard covers or paperbacks are worth? There are two sources: eBay and Abe Books.

I find that book prices in Abe Books vary greatly. For a more realistic take, I look at Canadian bookstores where these are listed. And prepare to be disappointed.

So how much is Booked to Die worth? For my well-read copy, anywhere from $1 to $10. Sigh.

John Dunning went on to write four more books in the Bookman series, the last one, The Bookwoman’s Last Fling, published in 2006He describes himself as a poster-child for ADD, quitting school in Grade 10 to hold a series of interesting jobs: glass shop worker, racing horse trainer and investigative reporter. He always relied on a typewriter to write.

In 1984, he and his wife opened The Old Algonquin Bookstore in East Denver, Colorado. Ten years later, it became a virtual bookstore which still operates today. He is also an expert on old radio shows and hosted his own show about them on Denver radio for more than 25 years.

In 2006, Dunning was diagnosed with a brain tumour that led to a long recovery period and sadly, to no further books.

DECISION? KEEP 

Happy New Year!

Greetings Readers!

I’m back! Just attended the Consumer Electronic Show in Vegas from Jan 7th to 10th.  Look for my pics and take on the future of robots, self-driving cars, Big Brother ad machine in your home and TV screens you can fold away or spread on a wall.

If you detect a trace of cynicism…well, you’d be right. I’ve seen 3D television and virtual reality rise and fade. Perhaps these, too, shall pass.

I’ll be blogging more regularly in 2019. Lots of Wanderings and Surreal Adventures to share.

R2D2…not

 

MORE FAB NEWS!

Blatant self promotion, Readers!

I’m delighted to announce that I have a new story in Coffin Hop Press’ noir anthology, The Dame was Trouble. The collection features stories by leading Canadian women crime writers – and every story features A Dame.

My story, “The Seeker”, stars Terry Snow, a tough 62 year old who handles fast cars, guns and gangsters to find her missing son.


The Dame was Trouble was released this August and is available in print and e-book on Amazon.ca.

And 13 Claws struck gold at the Arthur Ellis Awards with a win by friend and fellow Madame of Mayhem, Catherine Astolfo for her story, “The Outlier”.

This is a tale so noir, Jack Batten, the Toronto Star critic said: Catherine Astolfo’s story involving a pig, for example, offers an intriguing way of giving Paul Bernardo himself a case of the chills. 

Not to forget that we received THREE further nominations for “There be Dragons” by Jane Burfield and “The Ranchero’s Daughter” by Sylvia Warsh and my own novella, “Snake Oil”, about which Jack said: M. H. Callway’s tale mixes snakes and the real estate business in a way that will make readers run a mile from both.

And as it this wasn’t enough, I’m delighted to share that both Cathy and Sylvia’s stories were long-listed in Otto Penzler’s  Best American Mystery Stories for 2018!!

GREAT NEWS FOR 13 CLAWS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

APRIL 18TH, the Arthur Ellis short list event was a triumph for the Mesdames of Mayhem – and a personal boost as well!

My fingers were crossed for one, maybe just one, nomination from our third anthology. I could not believe my ears when not just one but FOUR of us are finalists.  And that includes my noir novella, Snake Oil!

Three fellow authors and dear friends have their stories nominated:

  • Cathy Astolfo for “The Outlier”
  • Jane Petersen Burfield for “There Be Dragons”
  • Sylvia Warsh for “The Ranchero’s Daughter”

None of this would have happened without editor, Donna Carrick and Carrick Publishing.

Here we are with dear friends and authors, Lynne Murphy and Sylvia Warsh, at Chapters / Indigo still incredulous!

Sylvia Warsh, Lynne Murphy, Mad and Ed Callway

 

NEWS! New Story in Mystery Weekly Magazine

Blatant Self Promotion, Readers!

My story, “The Cry”, is published in the April issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine!

In 2012, Ed and I visited Hiroshima, Japan to tour the Mazda factory, an enormous place with its own deep sea harbour and engineering university. Later we felt a duty to view the Peace Park, the site of the first atomic bomb explosion. Sobering, to say the least.

The park stretches nearly a mile in length and contains numerous memorials, virtually all of them in bleak Brutalist style, i.e. grey concrete.

I felt compelled to use this setting some day. In “The Cry”, an elderly assassin, suffering from early dementia, hears a murder being committed. Or does he?

Mystery Weekly Magazine is available in print from Amazon here.

It’s also available on digital newsstands and Kindle Newsstands subscriptions: https://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Weekly-Magazine/dp/B01N4NJL91

Or directly from The Mystery Weekly Magazine  website: http://www.mysteryweekly.com/subscribe.asp

Readers may also access Mystery Weekly FREE at over 30,000+ libraries and schools worldwide through their online system called Flipster.

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher

In February, Ed and I made our annual ski trip to Stowe, Vermont. Though old Stowe is rapidly disappearing due to the monolith monster condo development at the ski hill (now owned by Vail Resorts with concomitant sticker-shock pricing), vestiges of its old charm remain.

That includes our favorite hotel, The Green Mountain Inn, with its Shaker décor, warm fireplaces and afternoon tea and cookies. Locals  grab coffee and nosh down bacon and eggs at  The Café on Main next door in the Depot Building. Other must-eat noms: the over-sized chocolate chip cookies and superb fresh muffins.

While sipping Green Mountain’s dark roast eye-opener, we tried to resist the pleading eyes of a charming pug – and failed. He’s the resident pet in the best bookstore in Vermont: Bear Bond Books.

 

 

 

I’m trying to downsize my library but a visit to Bear Pond guarantees failure: I never leave without buying a book. Bear Pond promotes local authors, including crime writers: here’s where I discovered Archer Mayor and the Joe Gunther series.  This February, I struck more gold.

Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher intrigued me. The back cover outlined an adventure in bootlegging Canadian liquor across the US border during the Prohibition: an honourable part of our national history. And the novel drew on the intermingling of French Canadian and Vermont culture at the time. The hero’s name is Quebec Bill Bonhomme.

I’d anticipated that the border was once porous. Who knew how much? I was about to find out.

After the first page, I realized that I’d stumbled upon a gifted writer with a wildly exuberant imagination. Disappearances isn’t a mere adventure: it’s magic realism that reinvents and invigorates the tall tale.  It begins with our heroes’ visit to an asylum run by a mad, alcoholic doctor and an encounter with hermaphroditic twins and veers off into a series of Picaresque disasters. Crazy violence on par with noir author Johnny Shaw,  innumerable car crashes, an albino villain named Carcajou or “Wolverine” who won’t stay dead. Oh and did I mention that this is a comedy? I loved it! 

Disappearances  earned rave reviews from the Washington Post and Harper’s Magazine before winning the New England Book Award for fiction. In 2006, it was made into a film starring Kris Kristofferson and Genevieve Bujold. I’d never heard of it despite the cast.  It has a score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes – in other words, mixed reviews. According to IMDB, it failed spectacularly at the box office, costing $1.5 million to make and bringing in only $300,000.

Perhaps the wild, over-the-top fantasies work best on the page: a fever dream shared intimately between reader and author. We’re glutted by fabulous CGI and overblown violence on screen every day. Who remembers Tim Burton’s film, Big Fish even though it was a critical and financial success?

Howard Frank Mosher wrote 11 novels, many of which were turned into films by Jay Craven, an indie film-maker and native of Vermont.  And in case you doubt the influence of Quebec, what does “Vermont” mean? Vert mont or green mountain, right? Green Mountain range, Green Mountain Inn. Sometimes it takes 30+ years for the penny to drop.

In the meantime, EAT THIS BOOK!